Outdoor Survival - America’s Deadliest Snakes

Outdoor Survival - America's Deadliest Snakes - beware poisonous snakesLeslie Keating/photos.com

Most outdoor survival experts agree: snakes are weird.

They have no appendages, eat prey larger than their own head and kill with their spit. 

Ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes. In America, snakes are responsible for 12 fatalities every year. But fortunately for all you ophidiophobics, uh, ophidiophobialites...er, people who think snakes are really, really scary, dealing with poisonous snakes is pretty straight forward. According to the United States Army: Avoid them.

That means when rough camping with friends, or after having just broken out of prison, try not to sleep in dense foliage, next to rocks or fallen trees.

Instead, bed down in an open space where there isn’t any protection at all from more aggressive predators like bears, mountain lions, wolves and mosquitoes.

Man, it’s always something with Nature.

But what if you’re like most sane people and don’t actively search for deadly snakes, yet you still cross paths? What then, Army? Huh?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. Outdoor survival experts note that most snakes prefer to back down from a confrontation, rather than fight. But that’s not always the case.

Rattlesnakes, for instance, have been known to strike passersby without a warning rattle. (What’s the point of having a rattle?) Hikers walking down a clear, or what they thought was a clear, path could inadvertently step on a well-camouflaged copperhead and wind up having a really rough day. And coral snakes are known for making themselves at home in bustling residential neighborhoods. So much for shy and retiring.

Types of Poisonous Snakes

Fun outdoor survival fact - Most snakes have two kinds of venom: hemotoxic (affecting the circulatory system – your organs shut down) and neurotoxic (affecting the central nervous system – you suffocate). Though, one type is usually dominant.

I suppose that Providence, in her infinite wisdom, felt bad about forgetting to provide snakes with arms and legs and decided to make up for it with chemical weaponry.

In America, there are four basic species of poisonous snakes outdoor survivalists have to worry about:

  • Copperhead

  • Coral

  • Cottonmouth

  • Rattlesnake
Outdoor Survival - America's Deadliest Snakes - copperhead snakeEric Isselée/photos.com

Copperheads are found in the eastern and southern gulf states and in the lower Midwest. As the name suggests, they blend in well with a forest’s decaying ground cover. Their venom is hemotoxic. And while they’re not particularly aggressive, they will defend themselves if stepped on or if they decide to share your sleeping bag. Choose your bedfellows wisely.  

Outdoor Survival - America's Deadliest Snakes - coral snakeDave Rodriguez/photos.com

Coral snakes have a characteristic red, yellow and black striped pattern, which is often confused with the relatively harmless king snake. Outdoor survival tip: to differentiate between the two, remember that the coral snake’s yellow and red bands touch. Still, best to be on the safe side and not let either species bite you.

Coral snakes can be found in the warmth of the gulf states, ranging as far south as the Florida Keys. Pockets of coral snakes can also be found in Arizona. How they got from Texas to Arizona without colonizing New Mexico, don’t ask me. Their venom is neurotoxic.

Outdoor Survival - America's Deadliest Snakes - cottonmouth water moccasinRusty Dodson/photos.com

Cottonmouths (or Water Moccasins) are some of the most aggressive of the poisonous snakes found in the United States. They can be dark olive or black in color and are characterized by their pasty white mouths.

Cottonmouths spend a lot of time in the lakes and rivers of the southern and south-eastern states doing God knows what. They’re often found in the southern region of the Midwest as well. Their potent venom is hemotoxic and their bites often lead to infection and gangrene, though if a cottonmouth chomped on my leg, death would be my primary concern.

Outdoor Survival - America's Deadliest Snakes - eastern diamondback rattlesnakeEric Isselée/photos.com

Rattlesnakes as a whole range across the U.S. The Eastern Diamondback is the largest venomous snake in America and has fangs that can reach 2.5 centimeters (over an inch) long. It lives in the coastal areas of the southern states. An adroit swimmer, the Eastern Diamondback has been observed braving ocean swells to reach Florida’s numerous islands. Be sure to pack your chainmail swim trunks on your next trip to Daytona. Their venom is hemotoxic.

outdoor survival - america's deadliest snakes - western diamondback rattlesnake mojave rattlesnakeJohn Bell/photos.com

The famously stubborn Western Diamondback rattlesnake isn’t afraid to defend itself, ominously coiling up and rattling its tail when threatened. Because it injects such a large volume of hemotoxic venom, it is considered to be one of the most dangerous snakes in the U.S., so try not to piss it off.

The Western Diamondback ranges throughout the American southwest, and is equally at home in the desert, mountains and woods. Outdoor survival at its deadliest.  

Unlike its highly-adaptive cousins, the Mojave rattlesnake (similar in appearance to the western diamondback) prefers the arid conditions found in the mountains and deserts of the American southwest. But don’t let its small size fool you, it’s been known to kill a nosy hiker or two. Its venom is neurotoxic.

Outdoor Survival Tips - How to Treat a Poisonous Snakebite

There are many outdoor survival myths about treating snakebites, the most famous of which is to make an incision near the bite and have a friend suck out the poison.

But according to Greg Davenport and Cole Gamble, this is a major no-no, as doing so will poison the victim’s helper too, not to mention expose the bite victim to strains of filthy mouth bacteria.

Instead, use a mechanical venom suction pump found in common snake bite kits or simply squeeze the site for a minimum of a half hour to remove as much venom as possible.

If the bite is on an appendage, tie off the limb with a wide belt or bandana a few inches above the bite, but not too tightly. The idea is to restrict the flow of venom to the heart, not to completely cut off circulation to fingers or toes.

Get the victim to a hospital as soon as possible and try to kill the snake and bring it along (really). This isn’t just for payback, but so the hospital will know which antivenin to administer.

  • Note: Take caution when handling a recently killed snake. They’ve been known to bite even after death. Bastards.

Hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom can produce similar symptoms like numbness, weakness and difficulty breathing. However, victims of a hemotoxic venom often will experience a rubbery or metallic taste in their mouths, increased heart rate and noticeable swelling around the bite. Conversely, neurotoxins slow down organ functions often resulting in slurred speech, twitching, drowsiness and drooling. The area around the bite usually doesn’t swell considerably.

In either case, the wound should not be iced or cleaned with alcohol. Instead, get as comfortable as possible and try to relax. (Yes, really.) An increased heart rate will only spread the venom throughout your body faster.

In fact, have a drink or two while you wait for medical attention. Might as well, it may be the last chance you get.  

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